The Ailey Company at U.C., Berkeley’s Zellerbach, March 13-14

17 Mar

When Artistic Director Richard Battle emerged from through vibrant blue curtained center  before the March 13 opening of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, he  knew he was over half way to an enthusiastic reception. Slender and smiling, with succinct references to the current Bay Area’s rainy weather, he reminded the audience that this 54 year old ensemble had been coming to Berkeley since 1968.  Just eight years before, in 1960, Ailey had premiered the company’s iconic signature work, Revelations. The 2011-2012 season marks Battle’s first as artistic director, succeeding Judith Jamison.

In a way, the rest of program  A and B were pieces of cake, including two works by Battle and the company’s first season dancing Paul Taylor’s Arden Court and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 and Rennie Harris’ 2011 piece Home with its HIV inspiration.

Starting with Home, the audience saw a seeming random stage use by fourteen dancers, dressed in contemporary grunge trousers and colored tee-shirts, moving in suspiciously aimless fashion across and around the stage, until it was apparent women predominated and the work ended, like its beginning, formless.

During the intermission, as the audience streamed out, the woman behind me exclaimed, “Look at the man on stage, it’s part of the work.  I saw it in New York.”  Sure enough, Samuel Lee Roberts, was moving on an unadorned stage. If  the view of him was sometimes blocked by standees or aisle saunterers,  he still executed a myriad of  muscle isolations,  moving all his body parts, either exposed  skin or inside his black suit.

This was the introduction to Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, a collage of works amalgamated in 1999; it  included a touching pas de deux originally created by Mari Kajiwara, Naharin’s late wife, with its pattern of reaching and repelling at waist level, set to Vivaldi’s Sabat Mater.

The twenty member company, hatted, garbed in black, started to boogie, but came together in smart, orderly fashion.  They marched off the stage, into the audience to select individuals who followed them on to the stage where jazz and Latin music set everyone to the infectious rhythms, hips undulating, torsos swaying, legs and arms giving over to the music. The audience roared its approval.

One medium-sized dancer selected a red-sweatered  motherly figure, I venture in her seventies.  She kept up with every move, accepted every movement overture and embrace, continuing as the stage emptied.  The audience howled its approval.  Her partner collapsed on the floor.  She looked at the audience, paused, acknowledged the moment and bowed.

The performance closed with Revelations.  From its opening ensemble with its bird-like arm formation, to the jetes for Sinner Man, the dancers moved as if each word of the hymns was freshly stitched in their muscles.  There are fewer more delicious moments in dance history than the women with their stools and fans greeting one another and settling down for Sunday service.  Add  the men moving forward, flexing  shoulders like handsome roosters, swiveling from one side to another arm to finger pointed on an upward diagonal, and it’s  a clear image of men pleased with themselves.

Standing en masse with their approval, the audience knows it will enjoy an encore  of  Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham; the Ailey dancers cheerfully oblige.

Program B to come.

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One Response to “The Ailey Company at U.C., Berkeley’s Zellerbach, March 13-14”

  1. Odette's Ordeal March 18, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Lovely informative review!

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